Pictures from Greek Life and Story - Alfred J. Church

A Model Aristocrat

The career of the victor of Marathon ended in disaster and disgrace. Presuming on his unbounded popularity, he asked from the Public Assembly the sole conduct of an expedition, which he pledged himself to use to the great advantage of the State. No one was to know whither it was to go, or what it was to do. Everything was to be left to his unfettered discretion. A considerable force was raised, and put under his orders. He sailed with it to the Island of Paros. Whether he hoped to exact a ransom which would enrich the public treasury or, as was afterwards alleged, to avenge some private wrong, we do not know. Anyhow, the attempt failed. The Parians refused to pay the hundred talents demanded of them. Ultimately Miltiades had to return, unsuccessful and broken-down in health by a dangerous injury to one of his thighs. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to pay a fine of fifty talents. Whether, in default of payment, he was thrown into prison, is not certain. He did not long survive his disgrace.

The career of his son Cimon, the "model Aristocrat," had, therefore, an ill-omened beginning. He inherited his father's liabilities and, according to one, account, was thrown into prison till he paid the fine. The money was furnished, we are told, by Callias, an Athenian noble, who married Cimon's sister Elpinice. Why Cimon, who appears to have been wealthy, did not pay it himself, it is not easy to say.

His first public appearance was on the eve of the abandonment of Athens, by its inhabitants. All the able-bodied population made the fleet their home—the non-combatants had already been put in safety—and Cimon headed a company of wealthy citizens, whose assessment to the State entitled them to serve as horse-soldiers, when they came to hang up in the temple of Athené their useless bridles. After the defeat of the Persians, Cimon commanded, in combination with Aristides, the Athenian contingents to the allied Greek forces, which for several years carried on hostilities against Persia. The irreproachable conduct and demeanour of the two commanders, so strongly contrasting with the rapacity, profligacy, and arrogance of the Spartan Pausanias, did much to strengthen Athenian influence. Cimon's first exploit was the capture of Eion, a stronghold on the coast of Thrace, after a desperate resistance by the Persian Governor Boges. This took place probably about 473; in 469 occurred the incident described in the last chapter, the conquest of Scyros and the "translation" of the remains of Theseus; in 465 Cimon won a great victory near the mouth of the river Eurymedas. A Persian fleet, mainly consisting of Phœnician ships, was attacked by the allied Greeks and entirely destroyed. Cimon then landed his troops, and attacked and stormed the enemy's camp. This done, he set sail to meet an expected reinforcement of eighty Phœnician ships, encountered them near the island of Cyprus, and sank them all. An immense amount of spoil was obtained, and Cimon returned to Athens in triumph.

It was probably at this time that the poet Ion, an Athenian citizen though born in Chios, made the acquaintance of the model aristocrat, and recorded his impressions in his "Memoirs." The work itself has unfortunately been lost, but Plutarch, who had it before him when writing his "Lives," has preserved some interesting extracts from it. It is from Ion that we get the interesting sketch of Cimon's personal appearance. He describes the great man's manners as genial and pleasant, giving, as proof, that he was willing to play and sing for entertainment of the company—it was at supper that Ion made his acquaintance. This was contrasted by the guests with the more austere manners of Themistocles, who did not possess, or certainly would not exhibit, these accomplishments. He had busied himself, not with these graceful arts, but with making Athens richer and more powerful, a piece of self-assertion which, it is easy to imagine, his acquaintance would resent. The conversation naturally turning on Cimon's military exploits, he related an incident which did more credit, he thought, to his perspicacity, than anything else in his career. A vast quantity of booty having fallen into the hands of the allied Greeks at the capture of Sestos and Byzantium, the question of the division arose. It consisted of prisoners and property. The latter, as being of a value that could be promptly realized, seemed, to most of the claimants, the more desirable. Cimon earned the good opinion of the allies by cheerfully conceding it to them. In it short time, however, it became evident that his choice had been a wise one, quite apart from its conciliating effect. Relations and friends of the prisoners thronged to the camp in the hope of ransoming them, and the sums thus paid far exceeded the value of the property. It is probably Ion who preserved other traits in Cimon's character and way of life. His hereditary wealth had, of course, been largely increased by his share of the prize-money earned in a long series of successful struggles with the Persians. These riches he used with the most profuse liberality. His gardens were thrown open to the public. Everyone was at liberty to help himself at his pleasure to the fruits grown in them. His own table was furnished in the most frugal way, but he kept open house, according to one account, for all citizens who might choose to avail themselves of his hospitality, more probably for members of his own tribe, or, it may be, township. When he walked through the city a retinue of young Athenians attended him, who were instructed to exchange their cloaks with any poorly-clad citizen of mature years, whom they might happen to meet. Others carried bags of coin with which they relieved the wants of the poor, putting the money, we are told, unostentatiously into their hands. Probably this bounty was not altogether without an ulterior object. The famous Gorgias was not far wrong when he said of Cimon that he gained money in order to use it, and used it in order to gain power. Personal aggrandizement was not his aim, but he was a keen politician. He had, it is probable, much to do with the ostracism of Themistocles. In the matter of the Areopagus, the Supreme Court, as it may be roughly called, he took the unpopular side, stoutly defending its prerogatives against the attacks of the democratic party. In foreign policy he was decidedly a friend of Sparta. His idea was to divide the headship of Greece between his own country and its great rival. When the Helots revolted (B.C. 464) and threatened the very existence of Sparta, Cimon strongly pleaded that the request for help which this city addressed to Athens should be granted. "Do not," he said—it is Ion who has preserved his words—"suffer, Hellas to be lamed of one leg, and Athens to draw without her yoke-fellow." The appeal was successful, and a contingent was sent. Unhappily the Spartans, possibly because they had on their consciences a secret treaty adverse to Athens, conceived suspicion of their allies, refused to accept their services, and sent them home in disgrace. All Athens was furious at the affront; Cimon was considered, even by his friends, to have gone beyond due limits of prudence, and lost, in consequence, something of his popularity. We are not, therefore, surprised to find that in 457 he suffered the fate of his great rival Themistocles, and was ostracized.

A few weeks after his banishment, the hostile feeling, which had been growing in intensity for some time, between Athens and Sparta, broke out into open war. A Spartan army which had been sent on an expedition into northern Greece, took up a position at Tanagra, near the Bœotian border. It was believed that its purpose was to assist the oligarchical party in Athens to overthrow their democratic rivals. Nor is it unlikely that some of Cimon's less discreet or high-principled followers, enraged at the fall of their chief, were willing to look for foreign help. This was not Cimon's feeling. He begged to be allowed to serve, exile though he was, with the troops sent out to attack the Spartans. The request was refused. He turned to his friends and begged them to vindicate his patriotism. A hundred of them carried his armour into the thickest of the fight, and fell round it to the last man.

Before the five years of his ostracism were over, Cimon was recalled, on the motion of Pericles himself, who had now become the leader of the democratic party. This was in 453. In 450 Cimon took a part in bringing about a five years' truce with Sparta. The next year he led a powerful expedition numbering no less than two hundred ships, to Cyprus. There he died, whether of a wound received in the siege of a Cyprian town, or of disease, is not known. After his death the Athenians won a signal victory over the combined Cilician and Phœnician fleets, followed within a day or two by a great success on land. The conquerors liked to believe that they received the inspiration of an irresistible courage from the fact that they were carrying home for its funeral honours the embalmed remains of their great commander. The end of Cimon's life may be said to mark the culminating point of Athenian power. And it was the great merit of Cimon that Athenian greatness did not mean the depression of other Greek states. He realized, more perhaps than any other Greek statesman, the unity of the Hellenic race.